Sunday, May 27, 2018

Spanish government freezes EU-funded solar research centre

"In the desert of Tabernas, near where the famous spaghetti western films were shot, is the largest research centre for concentrated solar energy in Europe. 

And it’s dying through the usual blend of bad politics... As early as November 2017, the PSA chiefs resigned and cuts in research staff were announced. 

But how did we get to this point? 

Here’s what has happened: the research groups, partially funded from Brussels, had to deal with the freezing of funds due to [Spanish] government-driven spending restrictions. 

That’s right: they receive funds from the European Commission that they cannot use, even though their use would not affect in any way the Spanish national budget."

The Spanish government is against the solar plant (the traditional oil-based energy producers don't like competition from the solar people - at least until they've bought them out).

Translated by the excellent Business Over Tapas, which calls itself 'a weekly non-commercial newsletter about Spain...without fluff nor filler.'

Saturday, May 19, 2018

"Why not Australia?" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today

I spent the first thirty years of my life in Australia and the last twenty trying to stay out of it.

Plenty of local people in this part of the world regularly ask me why we are living so far from Australia. There are a number of reasons but visiting there always reminds me that it is landmass with a population that now badly lacks what I call ‘public intellectuals.’

I grew up in the Canberra suburbs seeing brainy egomaniacs like Richard Neville, Clive James, BA Santamaria (though he was also a genuine bigot) and inspirational Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating on television -- and here I mean free-to-air-TV.
But apart from someone like journalist, author and broadcaster Phillip Adams or a humorist like Andrew Denton there are now precious few deep thinkers in popular media.
The same claim could reasonably be made about the United States today where figures like Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky and perennial US Presidential candidate Ralph Nader have been replaced by a small number of quality satirists such as Jon Stewart.
Even someone like the brilliant (Canadian) writer/activist Naomi Klein has been sidelined from  being heard on a scale that her ideas deserve. The most popular networks and cable TV stations pull in large numbers of viewers who are instead fed a daily diet of polished lies and exaggerated fear-mongering.
Australia is a part of the world where talented, clever people in the creative arts industries have to leave if they genuinely desire to have a wide and mainstream audience.

Germaine Greer, Robert Hughes, Clive James, Nicole Kidman, Jason Donovan,Toni Collette, Rod Taylor, Guy Pearce, Kylie Minogue, Nick Cave, Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, Tim Minchin, Geoffrey Rush, Naomi Watts, Sia, Rebel Wilson and Barry Humphries simply could not have achieved the high quality of what they have done by remaining in Australia.

There, sport is number one and everything else cultural is a distant second.

Self-styled Australian ‘feral futurist’ Richard Neville wrote a rare, honest assessment of Australia for Adbusters not long ago. He explained why “the lucky country” still tends to rely on superpowers such as the USA (and most recently, China) and how it’s leaders prefer being an international sycophant.

“Australians are easily distracted,” he argued. “The focus of mass media [in Australia] is shopping promotions and light entertainment: cooking, sport, gossip, stock shifts, celebrity trials, soft porn and big-ticket ‘must see’ events.”

The question then has to be why has this happened? 

I think it’s partly because there is no developed interest in real politics in Australia, as opposed to the personality/leader-rivals "slugging it out in a boxing match" type-journalism that Australians are served.

The internet should have been a factor in leading to discussion on politics being less mediocre but it does not appear to be in Australia, unlike the USA where Obama then Bernie Sanders were able to break new activist ground. Instead, the news cycle “downunder” is dominated by a merry-go-round of opinion polls about leadership -- both state and federal -- and that passes for proper political analysis.

Australians are generally not only politically apathetic.

As one anonymous (European) online poster who had lived in Australia for 12 years wrote: “Australians as a whole are quite conservative. Just look at the government they elected! I find it increasingly frustrating. It's all about family, building a house, having a garden, a big 4WD and a BBQ on the weekend with the other families talking footy, house prices and gardening/fishing... I think maybe more adventurous Aussies leave.”

Australia is a very isolated country, but not only geographically. It is rich with beautiful landscapes (particularly the underrated desert) and its people have a lot in their favour. I just don’t want to live there because it doesn’t suit me and we wanted our son to grow up in culturally-rich Europe .

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, May 2018.]

Saturday, May 12, 2018

VIDEO: "Rich people don't create jobs" says multi-millionaire Nick Hanauer at his banned TED Talk

"As the war over income inequality wages on, super-rich Seattle entrepreneur Nick Hanauer has been raising the hackles of his fellow 1-percenters, espousing the contrarian argument that rich people don't actually create jobs.

The position is controversial — so much so that TED is refusing to post a talk that Hanauer gave on the subject.

National Journal reports today that TED officials decided not to put Hanauer's March 1 speech up online after deeming his remarks "too politically controversial" for the site..." Via Business Insider."

Saturday, May 5, 2018

"Can Yanis Varoufakis Save Europe?"

[Illustration by Joe Ciardiello.]

'...he was one of those left-wing politicians critical of Europe’s economic institutions, though not necessarily of the idea of Europe itself. 

Even as a young man, Yanis Varoufakis had always been struck by the idea of a united Europe as a way to “forge bonds relying not on kin, language, ethnicity, [or] a common enemy, but on common values and humanist principles.” ' 

A well-written article on the leader of Europe's most exciting new political movement, DiEM25 here.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

"In Spain, there is a fear of talking about race"

[Photo by Maité Escarria and courtesy of Lucía Asué Mbomío Rubio. Used with permission.]

Read more from Sandra Abd'Allah-Alvarez Ramírez' original article at Global Voices here.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

In France: "Literary Vending Machines Serve Up Short Stories"

IN GRENOBLE, FRANCE, the short story addict doesn’t have to go far to get their fix. 

Across the seven square miles of the central city, 14 orange-and-black machines* are dotted like Easter eggs in train stations, municipal buildings, and even the local museum. 

At the push of a button, each one will unspool a little piece of literature, printed on a long strip of paper, like a grocery store receipt. 

You can select for length—one, three, or five minutes—but precisely what you’ll be served up is in the hands of the gods. These are story dispensers, built by Grenoble-based publishing company Short Edition.
When the company began producing the machines in 2015, they were hardly set on global domination. But today, they are found around the world, with some 30 dispensers across the United States alone. (A map of the machines can be seen here.
In restaurants and hotels, libraries and government buildings, loiterers and literati alike can help themselves to these free stories, pulled from a digital bank of more than 100,000 original submissions.
The stories come from writing contests, with each entry carefully evaluated by Short Edition’s judges. At some point, they hope to translate them, and to “have some Asian authors read in Europe or America, American authors read in Africa or South America, etc.,” Loïc Giraut, an international business developer for the company, told LitHub
“We want to create a platform for independent artists, like the Sundance Institute,” Kristan Leroy, export director at Short Edition, said in an interview with the New York Times. “The idea is to make people happy. There is too much doom and gloom today.”
(* Dispensers cost $9,200, with an additional $190 monthly fee for content and software. COURTESY SHORT EDITION)
Read at source, Atlas Obscura.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Syrian refugees to finish university studies in Catalonia

"Students who were forced to interrupt their studies because of the war in Syria and who are now refugees in Lebanon, will finalise their degrees in Catalonia starting next year. 

The 20 students will be spread across 12 Catalan universities, thanks to a pioneering project promoted by the Generalitat. Each will have a grant of €10,000 a year to study and maintain themselves in a student flat."

Source: Catalonia Today (news.)

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Review of "This Boy's Life" -- My latest article for Catalonia Today magazine

It’s a great relief to read something as authentic as this memoir of Tobias Wolff’s childhood.
In 2018, when (even for adults) predictable superhero and action movies are dominating the western world’s popular culture as a form of escapism, my bowels were nicely warmed by having come across a one euro second hand copy of this little printed gem in Barcelona. 
It had been republished in 1994, seemingly given away with an end of year issue of ‘Esquire’, a North American men’s magazine.
I happily absorbed all the low-lights of the author’s young life in Concrete, a small company-town just south of the Canadian border, dominated by a cement factory. 
The reader learns that Jack (as he preferred to be called, after novelist Jack London) needed to drag himself through an upbringing that had all the underhandedness of Spain’s ultra-conservative government and the punishing violence of a month in Syria. 
Punches and kicks at school were the norm and sometimes the same at home with added insults from Dwight, an ornery stepfather who drank to excess whenever he had the money to indulge.
Like plenty of working class women of her era, Jack’s bright and capable mother is shown to be trapped in low paying jobs and a string of abusive relationships. In a sign of what is to come, she and Dwight come back early from their two-day honeymoon “silent and grim, not even looking at each other.”
One of the refreshing things about this autobiography is how honest Wolff is about his own character. 
With the perception of a fine mimic, he picks apart his family and friends but he also openly acknowledges how he uses lies to beef up his status with the locals and how he steals like a modern-day financier. 
Wolff even details the deceptive methods he employed to swindle his way into an (unsuccessful) scholarship interview for an expensive private high school.
Touchingly, the author also explains where he found relief from the daily grind of school and unending chores at home. 
Through music he gained some mental freedom and earning boy scout symbols provided a way to “compel respect, or at least civility from those who shared them and envy from those who did not.”
The official scout publications (where the book’s title comes from) Wolff read with the kind of fanaticism that is common in teenagers. “What I liked about [their] Handbook,” he remembers, “was its voice, the bluff hail-fellow language by which it tried to make being a good boy adventurous, even romantic.” 
The Scout Magazine he reads in a trance, “accepting without question its narcotic invitation to believe that I was really no different from the boys whose hustle and pluck it celebrated...Reading about these boys made me restless, feverish with schemes.”
As you can see, for a book that was first published in the late 1980s its language is pleasingly still rooted in a much earlier post World War II rural USA.
As well as this, Wolff’s work stands out to me because it examines a cross-section of American society that is still badly neglected in English language literature. Today, these are the same gun-carrying people who voted Donald Trump into the White House, in the hope of something better for their receding lives and now dead or dying industries.
In a recent interview, Tobias Wolff quoted Auden’s line that “writing an autobiography [is] like being a leper showing his sores in the marketplace.” 
He could just as easily have mentioned Flannery O’Connor, who argued that anyone who survives adolescence has enough material to write about.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, April 2018.]

Sunday, April 1, 2018

In Barcelona: A victory (and a new brand) for "top manta" street sellers

Photo by: Playground Do]
"The second week of March has been especially tragic for Spain's street vendors after the death by cardiac arrest of Mame Mbaye, of Senegalese origin, after running from the police.

This event contrasts, however, with two hopeful successes: the massive participation in the rallies in solidarity with Mbaye and the success of a crowdfunding campaign to finance a project that seeks to improve the living conditions of the collective in Barcelona: its own commercial brand, Top Manta [meaning “top blanket,” referring to the blankets on which many street vendors display their wares].
The project has been launched by the Trade Union of Street Vendors in Barcelona, an association formed by migrants hailing from various countries in Africa who have found a form of subsistence in street vending because of the administrative obstacles to working under the requirements of the law.
Under the slogan “Surviving is not a crime,” the Union was created in 2015 as “a way to support [themselves] in the face of the harshness of selling in the street day to day, and as a way to defend [themselves] in the face of institutional racism, persecution, and criminalization.”
Preceding the creation of the Union and the Top Manta brand is over a decade of fighting, self-organization, and construction of solidarity networks.

“We are creative individuals with ideas and ambition, like you.”

The idea of creating Top Manta was already announced by the collective in 2017, along with a promotional video released by online media Playground Do that has already reached more than 1 million hits. In it, Aziz Faye, spokesman of the Union and tailor by profession, explains how after eight years without employment, he discovered the dignity of this street vendor work despite police harassment, discrimination from other people, and an income that barely reaches 200 euros a month."
From my own research I learnt that importantly, a Barcelona council investigation found that there was "no mafia" involvement in the supply of products to top manta. It is believed though that there are organized groups related to the trafficking of people who bring these immigrants to Spain and there are also "bands" linked to counterfeit goods. 

Read more from source at GlobalVoices here.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

"Antonio Muñoz Molina: “Our legacy will be a pile of garbage”


"The award-winning Spanish author Antonio Muñoz Molina is a modern-day flâneur. 
In his new novel Un andar solitario entre la gente (or, A solitary walk among people), Muñoz Molina followed the path of writers such as Thomas De Quincey, Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin, and aimlessly roamed the cities of Madrid, Paris and New York, recorder, notebook and pencil in hand. With these tools he captured life’s peculiar mix of the lowly and  the sublime. 

Collage by Antonio Muñoz Molina.ampliar foto
Collage by Antonio Muñoz Molina.

“The great poem of this century can only be written with waste materials,” reads a line from the book. “I was looking,” it continues, “for a transparent music that can be breathed in like air.”
EL PAÍS spoke with Muñoz Molina about his writing experiences and beliefs about modern-day society."
Read interview (in English translation) here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"Why Did Women Journalists Strike in Spain?"

[Photo: Elisa Piñeiro, used with permission. Sign reads “Journalists on strike.”]

"Some 8,000 women journalists from Spain, among them the author of this post, recently signed a manifesto called “Journalists On Strike,” which was read during the “Feminist Strike” that took place on March 8 in a dozen cities in Spain.
Neither the manifesto nor the strike were initiated by a union, political party, or media source, as is often the case. For the first time, women television show hosts, radio presenters, and newscasters decided to turn off their microphones in the studio and take their voices to the streets."
Read more from María Luz Moraleda's translated article at Global Voices here.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Barcelona book launch from Antoni Cardona

Barcelona Author Antoni Cardona will be launching his first novel this Tuesday (20 March) at 7 PM at Alibri bookshop, Carrer Balmes 26, Barcelona.

This book is written in Catalan and will be presented by the writer Maria Barbal and Jordi Sole Camardons from the publisher, Voliana Edicions.

Another follow-up launch (and reading) will take place on Thursday the 5th of April (at 7.30 PM) at Atzavara bookshop, Carrer Escorial 94, Barcelona.

All the public are welcome to attend these two events.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

"The Spanish female referee proving rugby is not just a man’s game"

"Alhambra Nievas is blazing a trail for women in the sport, becoming the first woman to be the main referee in an international men’s rugby test match.

The first woman to be the main referee in an international men’s rugby test match, taking charge of the Women’s Rugby Sevens Final at the 2016 Rio Olympics, being crowned World Rugby referee later that year… Spaniard Alhambra Nievas is taking a traditionally male-dominated game by storm.
The award-winning rugby referee from Granada became the first woman to officiate in a men’s international fixture last November, marking the latest accomplishment on her record-breaking CV.
My mom gave me my name out of nostalgia – and because she’s passionate about Granada and the Alhambra
In a testament to her name – which her mother gave to her out of love for Granada’s Alhambra Palace, established during Spain’s Moorish dynasty – Nievas heralds a new dynasty for women, not only in the niche, close-knit refereeing world of rugby, but also in sport itself.
“My mom gave me my name out of nostalgia – and because she’s passionate about Granada and the Alhambra. I sometimes feel as if it weighs a responsibility upon me, or a type of personality. It’s special and beautiful – I like it.”
The 34-year-old’s story is illuminating – even more so in a country that once witnessed Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem – who briefly played for the national under-21s team – state that being a rugby player in Spain is like being a bullfighter in Japan.
The latter might still be a rarity, but Nievas has seen the wind of change blowing strongly in her country, where the 11-man, two-footed game is worshiped by many.
“My grandad watches a lot of soccer, he loves soccer,” she explains. “The first time he watched a rugby match, when I was refereeing on TV, he was shocked. He said to me, ‘Wow…the players didn’t give you any stick – just respect! You looked like you had everything under control!’ "
Read more from source here.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

"A very personal reason" -- My latest column for Catalonia Today magazine

If I lived in the USA, I could well face the prospect of being heavily in debt for the rest of my life. A civilised society is one that looks after its lower income earners
If you are a regular reader of this column you might remember several articles I’ve written in support of the public health system over the past few years.
This month I have an interest that is particularly close to home because I am just two days away from having a kidney transplant in Bellvitge Hospital in l’Hospitalet de Llobregat, just outside Barcelona. The organ donor is my wife Paula so I now have another reason to be grateful to her, apart from putting up with me for the last 25 years.
We only have to look at the United States of America to witness the hideous tragedies that unfold when there is no universal public health scheme to protect those who cannot afford to pay for private medical insurance.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, “the first-year billed charges for a kidney transplant are more than US$262,000.” On top of this, the drugs that are needed after the operation, including anti-rejection drugs and other medications are estimated to be about US$3,000 a month.
In my case, probably like many others who are lucky enough to live where we do, the financial burden on my family and I will be limited to some loss of income because I won’t be able to work for a few weeks or a month or so.
If I was living in the USA, I could well face the prospect of being heavily in debt for the rest of my life, or even completely devastated. This, purely because I have had the misfortune to inherit a genetic fault.
As one American reported recently, “after we went through all of our savings, all of our retirement, and all of the equity in our house, we filed for bankruptcy.” Sadly, these kinds of situations are as common as hot dogs and apple pie in the USA.
New schemes have helped some people to a limited extent, under the Affordable Care Act and the so-called ‘Obama Care’ state and federal funding, but the Trump administration is determined to end these programmes.
Republican party members of congress have their eyes equally fixed on ensuring that the private health industry completely dominates patient treatment and that increases its ability to make a healthy profit from unhealthy people. At the moment, there are still 27 million Americans without the insurance that is necessary for them to ensure they get looked after properly.
It’s easy to take what we have for granted in this country. Personally, I have no problem paying my share of taxes, provided it goes to vital services, like health, education or other human infrastructure.
The mark of civilised society is that it looks after its lower income earners or those who make next to nothing. Having a health problem should never be a passport to financial misery.
These are the kind of thoughts I have as I think about what I am facing in the coming weeks. I am extremely thankful to my donor but also thankful to all those ordinary people who both fund and fight for the continuation of a quality public health system. Long may it continue to help people like me who need it.

  [This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, March 2018.]

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Video: "The truth about our national identity? It's made up."

"Nationality feels powerful, especially today. But the idea of identifying with millions of strangers just based on borders is relatively new. We explain why it was invented — and how it changed the world."

Watch video from the New York Times here.